Five Ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, July 12, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gas prices breed crime

Rising gas prices are driving people to watch every dollar a little closer. More people are taking the bus and commuting via bicycle. But in mid-Missouri, driving a car is a must at some point. And drivers should be cautious of another effect of high gas prices — gas theft.

Police say gas thefts around the city are on the rise. Gas theft usually means “drive-offs” from gas stations. People park, pump and drive away without paying. Gas stations are using surveillance cameras and recording thefts internally as well as with police. Paying at the pump has become routine. Local gas station employees fear the worst when drivers pull away from the pump and park in front of the store to pay.

Gas theft has also moved from the pumps to the streets. Several Columbia residents have gotten into their cars only to find the arrow pointing to E. One resident said he witnessed a thief siphoning gas from his tank into red gas canisters. He chased him down the street and was lucky to keep his gasoline. AAA recommends investing in a locking gas cap for $10 and avoiding parking on streets.

Are you considering doing anything differently to guard against gasoline theft?

Taser rift continues

The City Council got a look at what Tasers can do during last week’s council meeting. Grass Roots Organizing showed a graphic video of the negative consequences of Taser use and then urged the council to reconsider a recent Taser purchase or adopt a Taser policy.

The Columbia Police Department purchased 40 Tasers with $30,000 of grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice in June. After training in September, 78 officers will be equipped with Tasers. The Tasers transmit a 50,000-volt shock at more than 100 miles per hour into the body. The shock affects the sensory and motor functions of the nervous system, the muscles contract for about five seconds, and the person tends to fall to the ground. The Police Department reported that injuries to officers have gone down since equipping them with Tasers.

The council said they won’t reverse their decision to buy the Tasers. Instead, they requested more information about Police Department policies and training. Some residents are worried about abuse of the Tasers and whether they can lead to death in some instances. Advocacy groups questioning the expanded use of Tasers are sponsoring a public meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the old Labor Temple at 611 N. Garth Ave.

Do you believe the city has enough evidence on Taser use to greatly expand their use by police?

Student vote vetoed

Gov. Matt Blunt last week vetoed a bill that would give voting privileges to the student member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. The bill passed in both the House and Senate, and the veto can be overturned only by a two-thirds majority vote by both chambers. Blunt said allowing the student curator to vote would upset the balance of statewide representation. Each of the other nine voting members of the board is chosen to represent one congressional district.

As it stands the student representative doesn’t vote. The bill would have given voting rights to the student curator if Missouri were to lose a congressional seat in the 2010 census. The bill restricted the student curator from voting on hiring and firing decisions — except when involving the president.

Blunt also said a student curator would represent a special interest, while the other curators are charged with representing the university as a whole.

The UM Board of Curators discussed the bill in an emergency meeting in May and voted 7-to-1 to oppose the measure. Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who sponsored the bill, said in a news release that the veto was tied up in party politics. He said the decision was made to appease Curator Doug Russell, who is also the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

How important is a voting student on the UM Board of Curators?

Right to nature?

The City Council has recently discussed the difference between protecting natural resources and opening them up for public use. At Monday’s meeting, the council heard a rezoning request for the development of the Silver Oak Senior Living Center. Part of the request included preserving 2.7 acres of forest as a conservation easement. The city would be allowed to maintain the land but wouldn’t own the property.

The easement also restricts people from accessing the property to enjoy nature — birdwatch, check out the trees and take a stroll through the woods. The neighborhood association didn’t intend to preserve the land for outdoor recreation purposes but rather to keep the trees that cover the area. Proponents for public access say people should be able to appreciate these type of preserved areas first hand.

The rezoning request was passed without a decision on public access. The developer and neighborhood association are charged with coming up with guidelines for the forest, which they must present to the council for approval.

What do you believe should be the terms of conservation easements?

Show-me the green

Consumers will get a break next April on purchases of energy-efficient appliances. A bill signed into law on Thursday includes a “Show-Me Green Sales Tax Holiday” for every year beginning in 2009. From April 19-25, consumers will be able to shop tax-exempt for particular energy-efficient appliances — up to $1,500. The holiday covers big ticket items — washers and dryers, ovens, air conditioners, furnaces, water heaters, trash compactors, dishwashers, ranges, stoves and refrigerators and freezers — with an Energy Star rating. Homeowners who get home energy audits will be eligible for tax deductions up to $1,000.

As part of the law, the state must spend up to 10 percent of its annual maintenance funds for energy-efficient building improvements, repairs and renovations. Additionally, any appliance bought with state money must be Energy Star certified.

Missouri is only the fourth state to enact such a tax break. Cities and counties can choose whether to apply the tax break to local sales tax or opt out.

Should the Columbia City Council and Boone County Commission include local sales taxes during the tax-break holiday?

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